Beware of the big arm
Russell's cannon doesn't guarantee he'll be great QB
Posted: Thursday April 5, 2007 12:08PM; Updated: Thursday April 5, 2007 5:36PM
The month-long run of marathon meetings at 49ers headquarters had gotten more tedious than The English Patient, and the team's top executives craved a little spice. Then, as if a gift from the football gods, it arrived -- the videotape that turned a trio of rational men into smitten reality-show judges.
This was 10 years ago, when San Francisco was still an elite NFL franchise, and team president Carmen Policy and his top personnel men, Vinny Cerrato and Dwight Clark, were attempting to keep it that way. With the 26th pick in the first round of the 1997 draft, they hoped to land a quarterback who could continue the legacy of future Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Steve Young.
The team was so serious it commissioned the great Bill Walsh to evaluate the top three QB prospects, and he correctly concluded that Jake Plummer was the best of the lot. But Policy, Cerrato and Clark couldn't stop marveling at the workout tape they'd received featuring the exploits of Virginia Tech quarterback Jim Druckenmiller, who came off looking like a cross between famed Soviet weightlifter Vasily Alexiev and a Sleestak from the '70s kids show Land Of The Lost.
"Take a look at this guy," the ecstatic executives told each other in hushed tones as they eagerly awaited the tape's signature scene: The 6-foot-4, 235-pound Druckenmiller lifting a parked car off the ground.
The 49ers got their man, making Druckenmiller -- once projected as a top-10 pick -- the only quarterback selected in the first round. He could, in fact, throw a football with incredible velocity, but as the 49ers learned soon after he joined the team, he couldn't throw it accurately. He also lacked quarterbacking instincts and mobility and struggled to read defenses.
Other than that, he was a hell of a pick.
I couldn't help but think about Druckenmiller the other day when I read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about former LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell's pro day workout last month. There was Tom Martinez, Tom Brady's technique guru -- and, for the past couple of months, a man employed by Russell's agents to sharpen their client's passing skills -- gushing about a 70-yard throw across his body that made the NFL scouts and personnel people in attendance say "Ahhhh."
Martinez also spoke of Russell's ability to make what he called "the butt throw" -- a pass delivered while sitting at the opponent's 40-yard-line that sailed through the uprights of the goalpost. This apparently was a one-up of former Cal quarterback Kyle Boller, who performed a similar feat from the 50, on his knees, before the Ravens took him with the 19th overall pick of the 2003 draft.
Somehow, against all logic, these Stupid Human Tricks repeatedly sway smart men into making dubious decisions, and I can't understand why. Sure, it's nice to have a quarterback with a big arm, but that's hardly the sole determinant of NFL success. Arm strength, in my book, ranks well behind toughness, intelligence, leadership, decision-making and mobility, among other qualities. Just ask my favorite Division II volunteer golf coach, West Texas A&M's Ryan Leaf.
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